We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Tuesday, December 13. 2011
The classic Steve McQueen movie immortalized three tunnels at Stalag Luft III PoW camp, now astonished archaeologists have discovered a fourth called George Good pics.
Wednesday, December 7. 2011
The below is copied from Home Of Heroes. I hadn't heard this story before. On this day, 70-years after Pearl Harbor, take some time to navigate around the site, and find many stories you may not have heard before. And remember. And resolve for our future that lays in the hands of our Presidents to come and our servicemen and women who rise to the challenges for us all.
At 7:58 A.M. Paradise was shattered. The first of two separate waves of Japanese fighters and bombers unleashed death and destruction on the city below. Amid the bullets raking her deck, the men of the Nevada stood in formation without breaking ranks until the flag had been raised and the "Star Spangled Banner" finished its refrain. Then they begin what ultimately became a two hour struggle for survival. They watched in horror as the first bombs hit their sister ship the U.S.S. Arizona. A few minutes after 8 A.M. the Arizona sank beneath the surface of the harbor taking 1,103 men of its 1,400 crew to a watery grave.
Continue reading "December 7 and the Flag of Liberation"
Tuesday, December 6. 2011
While America's first colleges were built mainly to produce ministers, by the late 17th- early 18th Century they had evolved towards something akin to a Brit "Gentleman's education," with curricula including math, some sciences including anatomy, Rhetoric, Ethics, Georgraphy, Christianity, Latin and Greek. Thomas Jefferson, an aristocrat more-or-less, attended the College of William and Mary for only two years, but was mainly tutor-educated and self-educated as were most ambitiously-curious folks in the time, and up past Abe Lincoln's time. He, after all, never saw a college.
Gentlemen, would-be clergy, and the rare would-be teacher attended colleges (but did not necessarily bother to graduate). And the prosperous, up through Teddy Roosevelt's time, were tutored at home while the practically-oriented primary schooling was for the working classes. (I don't believe TR ever attended school until he entered Harvard College. He had to pass their Greek and French test, along with other exams, for admission.)
The rise of public libraries, beginning in the early 18th C, had a huge impact on self-education up through the early 20th Century. For those who could not afford to buy books, these were like the internet for learners.
The research room in the NY Public Library. America's libraries are where many accomplished people without means received all of their "higher" education since 1730:
The evolution of American higher ed is fascinating as these institutions attempted to keep themselves relevant and in demand and to ultimately create a monopolistic if meaningless credential. American higher ed borrowed from the European, but has always been quite different. My reading suggests these phases in its evolution:
Continue reading "A Gentleman's Education, McEducation, and other topics in American higher ed"
Thursday, December 1. 2011
I doubt it. Myron Magnet tends to feel the same: On Tyranny and Liberty - Would the Founders approve of the nation we’ve made?
Read it. Wonderful essay. Another quote:
Monday, November 14. 2011
Long-term mortgages may or may not be a good idea, but they do have willing sellers and buyers. In most of the world, mortgages are either rare or very short-term, ie 5 years, and are not tax-advantaged. From Forbes:
The FHA and the mortgage interest tax deduction introduced giant distortions into housing markets. Just add "free" government highways to the mix, and you get what you have.
In my view, the FHA and the mortgage deduction are simply subsidies to construction industries and unions, and the freeways simply indirect subsidies to the auto and trucking industries and suburban construction industries.
Photo is a new home in Levittown, Long Island, NY
Wednesday, November 9. 2011
The Temple of Athena, the Virgin (Parthena) Goddess. A relatively small temple, by ancient Greek standards. They believed the goddess inhabited the temple.
I have stood there. Like some other famous and dramatic spots on the planet, you have to pinch yourself to make sure you're really there and that it's really real.
Dubya and Me - Over the course of a quarter-century, a journalist witnessed the transformation of George W. Bush.
It is difficult for me not to like the Bushes. My kind of people, with the sorts of flaws that I can put up with.
Sunday, November 6. 2011
It's close to being the perfect food, containing pretty much all you need to survive. How the Potato Changed the World - Brought to Europe from the New World by Spanish explorers, the lowly potato gave rise to modern industrial agriculture.
What is "lowly" about the sacred Mashed Potato? asks I. We only grow the pre-mashed varieties at my house, genetically-modified to contain the butter, salt, and cream genes.
The premium varieties of potato, of course, come with a thick rare rib-eye on the side.
(It's remarkable to consider all of the things from the New World which changed the Old World: corn - maize, potato, tomato, syphilis, squash, etc.)
Saturday, November 5. 2011
The new World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. is not to include FDR's powerful prayer on D-Day. The WTF explanation:
The House is planning to vote otherwise. Will Senators, also? Will President Obama respect FDR and his betters, who recognize from where our strength comes. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, please read the prayer that expressed the faith and determination of our people, and maybe add a prayer that we will have new leadership in Washington who share that faith and determination to know and act upon right and wrong.
Thursday, November 3. 2011
The "MF" in MF Global does not stand for "Maggie's Farm". But it could stand for "Massive Fraud". What's amazing, as the MF Global story unfolds, is how one of the liberal standard bearers, Jon Corzine, put his future and his reputation on the line to make more money than the tidy sum he already has. He was, after all, known as a risk taker. But he was also one of the Left's golden boys.
There's nothing wrong with making money, and nobody should begrudge Corzine what he earned. However, I was happy to see him removed as my governor, due to the hypocrisy of his rhetoric and his disastrous leadership. His political views, contrasted with his behavior as CEO of Goldman Sachs, were inconsistent. He claims to be a man of the people, seeking to right wrongs and help the poor. He also gave support to, and received support from, unions. As CEO of Goldman during the run up to a public offering, he cut staff, fought unions, and tried to lower wages. In doing so, he oversaw a successful IPO, but was eventually ousted.
It's always intriguing to see liberal hypocrisy laid bare and listen to the spin. After all, it was recently speculated that Corzine might be a Geithner replacement. Few of his Democratic colleagues have jumped to defend him.
Corzine could, and should, have been much smarter about this. After all, MF Global purchased a firm which had executives jailed for exactly the same kind of fund commingling which seems to have just occurred. So it seems reviewing history was not helpful to the management of MF Global. Does a connected politico earn a jail cell for his behavior?
Friday, October 28. 2011
I cannot find an image of the old Liberty and Property flag from the American Revolution, but it seems to have been flown often, and certainly in the town of Falls Village (part of Canaan, CT - not to be confused with the wealthy NYC suburb of New Canaan, CT).
The history of Falls Village with some info about the flag here.
Falls Village is still quaint, rustic, and desirable because its grand plans for industrialization failed.
I am reminded that Jefferson's first draft said "life, liberty, and the pursuit of property," but that it was changed in later drafts to the more general but hopelessly vague "Happiness."
The dam on ye olde Housatonic River in Falls Village (not my photo):
Sunday, October 16. 2011
I've seen enough cloisers and cloister gardens in Europe to occupy my brain for a lifetime, but we went down to The Cloisters yesterday with friends to go on the Medieval Gardening tour. The museum overlooks the Hudson River near the northern tip of Manhattan, not far from where Alexander Hamilton's farm and country house was located.
Good fun. 1 1/2 hrs. Excellent docent, clearly loves her topic. She spent 15 minutes on the plants in the 15th C. unicorn tapestries besides going outdoors to discuss the medieval gardens. (I think most people go to the Cloisters just to see the unicorn tapestries, the subject of which is a symbolic mingling of romantic and sexual love with Christianity but it is difficult to understand them without an informed introduction to them.)
A Hortus conclusus is an enclosed garden, taken by monks from the Roman enclosed gardens, with a Christian symbolic gloss. (As I always say, if you want to understand the Romans, one must look at oneself. We of the Anglosphere are Romans.)
It's taken me many years to learn one thing: Wwherever you go, Always Take The Tour first. Be humble and learn.
That's the Hudson River in the distance.
More pics below the fold -
Continue reading "The Hortus conclusus"
Friday, October 14. 2011
Anyone who is familiar with the Occupy Wall Street movement knows that it has more or less 'settled' Zucotti Park. This is a very small area (roughly 33,300 square feet) down by the World Trade Center. It's a private park owned by Brookfield Partners. It has no habitable area, but the squatters are creating their own living conditions. They claim they will stay for as long as they have to.
Most of us doubt this is true. I'm willing to bet the minute the TV cameras leave, or the first large snowstorm blows through, most of them will leave. What if they don't, though? Could they stay forever?
It's possible. The potential is there. In fact, there is history supporting this kind of thing. So let's take a look at what might happen if these people never leave.
If you've ever been to Denmark, or Copenhagen specifically, you might be familiar with Freetown Christiana. Christiana is an old military barracks/base which was abandoned by 1970. In 1971, local residents broke down the fence to create a playground, and eventually many people began living in the facilities because housing in Copenhagen was hard to come by. It became a relatively autonomous commune. I found out about it as a teen, when I visited Copenhagen in 1976. At the time, I was deemed "too young" to see it. Seven years later, as a college student living abroad, I visited Copenhagen and this time I made three trips to Christiana. I will admit, it was a great party. But even then I realized it was no place to live. I was alternately impressed and repulsed. With each visit, I was less and less impressed.
Continue reading "What Might Happen If OWS Stays?"
Monday, October 10. 2011
This Italian (Genoa) adventurer in the employ of Spain didn't discover the New World but, with the help of people like Vespucci, he sure did help put it on the map. New Spain!
The Morison bio is a fine read.
Also fun, from us: History's Mysteries: The Columbus Affair
Also related: 1491 and Cahokia
Monday, October 3. 2011
Lee Davenport died two days ago, at 95. Who? What a life he lived. The Brits owe him a debt of gratitude.
(Here's a shorter obit in the Boston Globe). Makes a fellow like me feel quite dull and ordinary.
We are fortunate to have an independent bookstore in town. And even more blessed because the owner has known me for 20 years so that, when a family member goes in at birthday time or Christmastime, they just ask her what she thinks I would like. She is generally correct but, given how catholic my reading taste is, it might be tough to be wrong.
This is great fun: Genghis: Birth of an Empire by Conn Iggulden. The Amazon review says "brilliantly imagined and addictive historical fiction," and that's right. It's the first of his 4-book series on Genghis Khan.
Saturday, October 1. 2011
Natural born killers? At Edge, A History of Violence from Steven Pinker. He begins:
Friday, September 23. 2011
Our expert Sipp says this:
That building is not a style I'd go out of my way to build or anything, but it's based on one of the coolest things in the history of the US: The Columbian Exposition in Chicago (aka the Chicago World's Fair) on the 400th anniversary of Cristobal Colon showing up. (he was Portuguese, you know; a man holding a knife to my chin told me that and I believed him, con gusto).
Here's a pic of Machinery Hall at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The grand buildings were all temporary structures in a temporary Olmsted landscape, and became an inspiration for things like Disneyland:
Thursday, September 22. 2011
Wednesday, September 14. 2011
I also noted that I was so inspired by coming across an actual Darwinian Denier here in the advent of the Second Millennium that I immediately rewatched my one Darwin disc, then ordered a bunch more from Netflix. Thanks, Rick, for the reminder of what a truly great man Charles Darwin was.
Since I'm currently real 'up' on Darwin, I thought I'd compile a handful of different observations and such on the subject, including my own encounter with a small evolutionary experiment taking place right before my very eyes.
To get us in the mood, let's start off with the one big tool that Darwin didn't have.
Continue reading "On Darwin"
Monday, September 12. 2011
From Gates of Vienna:
The Battle of Vienna in which King Sobieski defeated the 100,000-man army of "Islamic hordes" under Kara Mustafa Pasha was one day after the arrival of the Polish army with their winged hussars - Sept. 12. The western expansion of the Caliphate ended there, but the push back took many years.
Juliasz Kossack's Sobieski in Vienna
Sunday, September 11. 2011
Like President Bush's advisers, everyone in the TV studio just naturally assumed it was some small plane whose pilot had conked out. When the news came in that it was an actual airliner, it was still assumed that the plane had suffered some kind of terrible mechanical mishap.
Of course, that all changed when the second plane hit.
As you might recall, Bush was in a Florida elementary school classroom at the time. There's a video of him here as he describes the moment.
One interesting background story I recently learned about is that Ari Fleischer, the White House Press Secretary, was also in the classroom when news of the second plane arrived. The original plan, when they still assumed it was an accident, was for President Bush to speak briefly to the cameras, assuring New Yorkers that the federal government would provide whatever help was needed.
Just before he was set to address the press, the second plane hit and Bush's staff was immediately notified. Ari grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled down a large 'DON'T SAY ANYTHING YET' on it, then held it up to the Prez, who gave him a brief nod of understanding. It was a minute later that Bush was quietly approached with the bad news. There's a video of Ari relating the story here.
This quick thinking on Ari's part might have saved President Bush a gaffe that would have endured throughout eternity. Imagine him suddenly turning to the cameras and saying, "By the way, we've been informed of that unfortunate little incident up in New York City. If you folks need any extra blankets or band-aids, just let us know."
Well, not exactly 'unarmed'. They did have one weapon at their disposal:
Tuesday, September 6. 2011
Our lad is now based in Rome for the rest of the summer. He goes everywhere and tries to see everything. He sends these photos of Ostia Antica, aka "The Better Pompeii." It means "The Old Port," just outside of Rome. 100,000 people once lived there.
Whenever I consider the Romans, I realize that, although we tend to think of ourselves as living in a Judeo-Christian culture, we really live in a Roman culture with a little Judeo-Christian icing on top.
Having been to Pompeii, I would say that, judging from the photos, Ostia Antica is the far-superior Roman site. A passer-by was kind enough to take this snap of himself at an old fast-food counter (Pompeii was full of those too):
3 more of his photos below the fold:
Continue reading "Ostia Antica, re-posted from a couple of years ago"
Sunday, September 4. 2011
According to this site:
In 1994, in southeastern Turkey, a Kurdish shepherd discovered the remains of one of the most astonishing archeological finds of our times. Göbekli Tepe
More at Wikipedia.
Thursday, September 1. 2011
Finally, my intertunnel, phone, and TV service has mysteriously returned via the mysterious and fragile workings of Optimum. This came in from a friend:
Saturday, August 13. 2011
But train wrecks are no slouch, either.
And runaway trains are a breed apart. The recent movie Unstoppable did a great job of portraying how mammoth — and unstoppable — these things really are. In that case, it was human error at the rail storage yard that started it off, but under normal circumstances there are three people on board, two up front with radio communication between them and the guy in the caboose, and there are various safeguards built in to stop the train in the exceptionally unlikely event that both people in the cab would become incapacitated.
A modern runaway train just doesn't make any sense at all.
Just ask the 23 people who died that day.
Update: A couple of people in the comments mentioned that it was downloading very slowly, stopping and starting, but I checked with the web hosting company and everything's fine on their end, so there might be a little 'Net congestion out there today. If it stops on you, just pause it and let it download for a while.
There's another interesting train crash mystery here. Like the most complicated airline disaster, it took a whole shitload of things to go wrong, in the perfect order, at precisely the right moment, to bring it crashing down.
Thursday, August 11. 2011
I did once, in front of Mann's Chinese, but I think I got away with it.
Name Three Germans!
Monday, August 8. 2011
A re-posted quote from the piece at New Criterion:
It gets better:
Knights, Jerusalem, the Seljuk Turks - the history of the Crusades and the future of Islam, by Rubinstein in The New English Review. One quote:
Tuesday, August 2. 2011
F-16, call sign Stroke 3, dodging 6 SAM launches during Desert Storm
As the package proceeded to the Iraqi border the weather become steadily worse until everyone was in the weather, unable to climb out into the clear. As planes got out of position, the package finally broke out into the clear just past the Iraqi border. At this time, a large calibre AAA gun began firing on the aircraft. The AAA consisted of extremely large airbursts that looked like big black rain clouds. The AAA, coupled with the confusion of sorting out the package formation, resulted in 25% of the package being sent home at that time. Meanwhile the package, now a 12-ship, pressed on to Baghdad.
Go here, scroll down to DAY THREE for the rest
Tuesday, July 26. 2011
Pic is a crowded Cape Cod beach - the bay, at Wellfleet. Duck Harbor. You can walk it for hours, if you bring enough water. Can take dogs there, off leash of course. Do dogs love that? Guess. At low tide, it is dog heaven.
I have all of these books, and love them:
Richardson: The House on Nauset Marsh: A Cape Cod Memoir
Schwind: Cape Cod Fisherman
Henry David Thoreau: Cape Cod
Mitcham's Provincetown Seafood Cookbook. His Kale Soup and Haddock Amondine, along with all the rest of his Portuguese-influenced recipes - are immortal, but his Baked Stuffed Cod is the best. The whole Cape area has lots of Portuguese descended from the visiting Cod fishermen (Emeril, from Fall River, is one.) Interesting fellow, Mitcham. Highly productive in his life; rarely, if ever, sober from what I heard. Dead now, at 77.
I have a few other out of print Cape Cod area history books that I won't link because even Abe's doesn't have then.
Thursday, July 21. 2011
Living in my new home state of South Carolina, I’ve come across some really interesting history. The story of building the Dreher Shoals dam impounding the Saluda River and creating Lake Murray is a real story of trial, error, engineering expertise and perseverance. Built to provide electric power to Columbia and a large section of South Carolina, the lake and it’s watershed is under the control of South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G).
In addition to the interesting and varied flora and fauna, Lake Murray has a very interesting military history. Due to its rather unique layout, it was considered by General Jimmy Doolittle to be the perfect place to practice bombing runs prior to the raid on Tokyo. The target was Lunch Island – a small, 10 acre former hilltop located just south of the mid-line of the lake. Flying out of Owens Field in Columbia, the B-25s would circle North and start their runs from the North West. The United Stated Navy also used to practice torpedo runs on Lunch Island. Eventually, Lunch Island became Bomb Island and that name has stuck.
Post WWII and up until the mid-60’s, Bomb Island was partially used for recreational purposes – picnics and such. SCE&G would burn off the island occasionally to keep the brush down. It was around this time that Mother Nature decided that she would take control of Bomb Island during the summer and give it over to a bird called the Purple Martin.
The Purple Martin is a member of the swallow family and is the largest of the North American Swallows. It is primarily an insect eater and has the ability to maneuver like a fighter plane when munching down on mosquito’s, dragonflies, moths and other morsels it finds edible. Their migration pattern starts in early July to fly overland down through
What is also unique about the Purple Martin at least in the Eastern US is that they seem to have made
I witnessed this entirely by accident on Monday evening. I was out on the lake planning on taking some sunset pictures over Spencer and
It starts about ten minutes before sunset – you see one or two swallows swooping along the water, zipping up in the air and back down again. Eventually, one or two become ten or twenty, then a couple of hundred.
Eventually, they mass above the island in a cloud of birds – it is simply an amazing sight as they form these huge vortexes of swirling birds. They swoop down onto the island and they back up again doing this a couple of times before it gets dark and they settle down on the island with a few stragglers coming in behind the main group. This image is about 1/8th of the island and the birds above it. I apologize for the lousy image but I was using a long lens wide open at 1600 ISO to get the shot. I’ll try and get a better one next time I go out there in the evening.
It is estimated that there are anywhere from 750,000 to 1,000,000 birds on the island over night at the peak of the season. There are so many birds that they have shown up on radar images from
It’s an amazing show Mother Nature puts on over
Oh, just to put paid to the evening, I got this image – it was quite an evening.
Tuesday, July 19. 2011
Mann has now written 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created
I thought 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus was excellent.
Tuesday, July 12. 2011
Sunday, July 10. 2011
"NASA CENSORS BLOGGER - WHY??" screams the New York Post.
No, along with their global warming hoax, I'm sure NASA will want to keep this baby free from any controversy and safely under wraps. We won't be bothered as long as we toe the party line and at least pretend it happened.
With that said, this clip is a refreshing breath of air from the usual frenzied documentary-style show, where the scene changes every 2.1 seconds and you rarely get a chance to just sit there and contemplate the damn thing.
If you're really old and were alive back in the 80's, you might remember those airplane shows where each 1-hour episode would be on a specific plane. It'd be on some ancient WW II bomber and there'd be endless minutes of it just... flying... along.
No machine guns a'blazing, no enemy fighters on the attack, no 500-pounders being dropped, no narrator blathering away; just the big plane lumbering along and the drone of the engines. Using the same camera angle. For minutes upon end. You had to be a real lover of flying to watch those shows — but for those of us who were, it was terrific.
This reminds me of that.
Monday, July 4. 2011
Fascinating. Without beer, we'd have no pretty pyramids to look at.
Hey, honey, don't forget the limes.
Monday, June 27. 2011
That's the title of a fascinating essay by Aaron at FP. (link fixed). A quote:
A rescue from the "spiritual slavery" of Socialism.
Thursday, June 23. 2011
Actually, no blood relation to Andrew Breitbart, today’s investigative PR Superman at leaping tall piles of Leftist BS. Zisha (stagename Siegmund) Breitbart was a poor Polish Jew who in the early 1900s was heralded by schtetl dwellers, and by gentile audiences in Europe and America, as “Superman of the Ages” and “Iron King” for his feats (and tricks) of strength.
For more about his career, read here.
Master German filmmaker Werner Herzog made a biopic of Zisha Breitbart's life in 2000, Invincible. Herzog takes some film liberties, but “Herzog did accurately portray Breitbart as a sensational popular variety artist and a proud Jew who inspired hero-seeking Jewish children—likely among them Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster.”
Here’s the trailer for Invincible.
Zisha Breitbart died in 1925 from the after-effects of a rusty nail in one of his acts.
But, Superman lives on.
Tuesday, June 21. 2011
It's been quite a while since we've had a Pepy's Diary post, but this piece of his blog post from June 19, 1668, amused me:
I home, and there we to bed again, and slept pretty well, and about nine rose, and then my wife fell into her blubbering again, and at length had a request to make to me, which was, that she might go into France, and live there, out of trouble; and then all come out, that I loved pleasure and denied her any, and a deal of do; and I find that there have been great fallings out between my father and her, whom, for ever hereafter, I must keep asunder, for they cannot possibly agree. And I said nothing, but, with very mild words and few, suffered her humour to spend, till we begun to be very quiet, and I think all will be over, and friends, and so I to the office, where all the morning doing business.
Plus sa change, plus c'est la meme chose. Sam is frequently figuring out how to deal with Mrs. P's complaints and discontents. He liked to hang out with jovial, cheerful folks between business or government deals, often returning home late from the theater or from taverns in a well-lubricated condition.
One can spend many enjoyable hours keeping up with Sam's diaries, which are more interesting - and better-written - than any Tweets or Facebook posts you will ever read. He did love life, and entered fully into it with a sense of fun and with enough discipline to make it work.
Seemed to me, today, that our economy is stuck in a great molasses spill, but this time the molasses is from the government.
Pic from The Great Molasses Disaster (Boston, 1919).
Sunday, June 19. 2011
Grids vs. no grids, at Old Urbanist:
Interestingly, NYC's Broadway was an old Lenape Indian trail into the Bronx and Westchester, later extended by the Dutch to run up to the Dutch settlement of Albany (the current Rte. 9).
We now call the North River the Hudson River. The road along the wall is Wall St. That canal, now filled in, is Broad St. Another Dutch canal further uptown, long filled in, is now Canal St.
More fun old Manhattan maps here.
Referring to real Black Bears, not financial bears - in what year was the last bear on Manhattan killed?
And roughly when, the last wolf?
Wednesday, June 15. 2011
Four Myths about the Crusades. A quote:
Wednesday, June 8. 2011
The original argument against the Bill of Rights as an amendment to the Constitution in the US was that it would make it appear that those were the only rights of the people and of the states.
"Enumerated powers" do not enumerate the rights of the people, but delimit the powers of the state (all Maggie's readers know that). Randy Barnett discusses. A quote:
The people opposing the Bill of Rights amendments had a good point.
Sunday, June 5. 2011
Came home from a busy, delightful, and exertional family day to notice some of Mrs. BD's Digitalis in glorious bloom.
Whenever I see Digitalis - Foxglove - in bloom I remember "the Shropshire Crone," renowned in medical history for promoting the use of it for "dropsy" - congestive heart failure. The astute and open-minded Dr. William Withering took notice and got all of the credit - hence the continued use of Digitalis for heart failure. Many people we see walking around would be either dead or bed-ridden without this herbal treatment. Digitalis increases the contractility of the failing heart, but in higher doses it kills you.
Digitalis is a biennial, and self-sows generously when in a happy spot - half-day sun, rich soil. That is Nepeta in bloom in the foreground, and the low-growing Little Lamb's Ear Hydrangea on the left, which will bloom white in late summer.
Up here in the land of snow, we treasure our gardens especially because our growing season is so darn short. Our plants have to know how to carpe diem even if we do not. We try to learn from them. Winter is coming.
Wednesday, June 1. 2011
There are still nearly two million WW 2 vets in the US. Those who saw the combat tend not to talk about it. Too much pain and horror to talk about.
Snap above is on the country road in the hilly Tiber Valley driving from Todi to Montefalco, with the charming town of Todi in the distance, on the hill. Italy is good about having a sharp distinction between town and country. Little-to-no sprawl. Except in the big cities, you go from urban density directly to vineyards, olive groves, or forests full of deer, cinghiale, eagles, even wolves and, best of all, the ferocious and dangerously-expensive Wild Black Truffle. People like to live in towns, where they can walk to work and shop, and can say bon giorno to their neighbors.
Bit of history
A quick history and geography of Umbria in central Italy, northeast of Rome, to put my forthcoming travel pics in context. It is generally similar to the history of the entire area we now term Italy.
Central Italy was the prehistoric land of the Etruscans (hence "Tuscany" - land of the Etruscans) and of the less-known Umbri. They were, relatively speaking, peaceful and prosperous farmers and traders. When Rome began its imperial expansion around 250 BC, Umbria up along the old trading route to the Adriatic (which the Romans later termed the Via Flaminia) seemed like an obvious target.
The Romans did their Roman thing there for 600 years until the empire began to unwind and Goths and Lombards moved into Tuscany and Umbria both by immigration and by arms in the 400s-500s. In many ways, these waves of invasion became sort of Romanized and Christianized, in time. The Byzantines were in the mix then, too.
Warring feudal duchys and kingdoms dominated the dark ages in this part of Italy, during a time when the declining Roman regions were also set upon by piratical Saracens (mainly seeking slaves for the Middle Eastern slave trade) and Normans (seeking adventure), until Papal power exerted itself and built an authoritarian, theocratic peace by the 1100s and 1200s. They were big on building castles with which to assert their powerful churchly presence, but from the days of the late empire people were building their own keeps and walls to defend themselves from foreigners and also from their neighboring towns. The Roman Legions had previously made walls and keeps unnecessary: the Roman armies had been the wall. The Pax Romana.
The Papal State pretty much controlled central Italy, perhaps to its detriment, until the Italian nation was invented 150 years ago. Roman Catholicism was pretty much corrupted by money and politics, during that era, including the Benedictines.
2011 is the 150th anniversary of that political event. Garibaldi, etc.
Geographically, southern Umbria divides itself into three regions: The north-south-running Tiber Valley where the Tiber flows south towards Rome, the fertile north-south running Valle Umbra which is like a mini version of California's Central Valley, and the eastern Valnerina which is the area in the majestic Appennines where the river Nera flows down to eventually join and magnify the Tiber.
We visited and stayed in incredible hotels in each of those three areas of Umbria. As in Roman times, rural and quaint Umbria is a popular Roman getaway place, full of bikers, motorcyclists, foodies, and hikers. It's only a 2 or 3 hour drive from Rome, and it is packed with "unspoiled gems."
Most of the towns were Umbrian first, Roman later, and then Medieval-Renaissance. Except for towns damaged by the war (like Terni) or by earthquakes (like Foligno), there is a lot of Renaissance, generally built on Medieval town footprints.
Except for Assisi with its bus-loads of pilgrims, we saw few non-Italian tourists and only one American couple - friendly folks from Montgomery, Alabama! Some Brits, Aussies, Austrians, and Dutch. We tend to meet people when we travel. That's part of the fun.
Todi, Amelia, Orvieto, Montefalco, and Perugia are on hills in the Tiber Valley. Towns in Umbria tended to be built on hills for defensive purposes, which is why exploring Italy is such a good physical workout. Assisi, Spoleto, Spello, and Terni are along the western edge of the Apennines where they rise from the plain. Norcia, and our monastery hotel, are in the mountains themselves near where the Nera emerges from the mountains.
Best times for Italy or any Mediterranean travel are Spring and Fall. May and October are perfect. Italy climate here.
I will have lots more fun travel pics soon - Pic below of the Valle Umbra, looking west from the Assisi hillside:
Pic below from the garden of our 6th C. Benedictine monastery hotel in the Valnerina in the Apennines, with a small hillside olive grove (doubling as parking area) below the wall. It is no wonder that people love to visit Italy: it has the food, the history, the scenery, the quaintness, the vino, the art and architecture, and the delightfully tough and fashionable Italian gals.
Monday, May 30. 2011
Thursday, May 26. 2011
Mrs. BD and I have been taking the William and Mary course in Medieval History (with the delightfully Asperger's-ish Prof. Daileader via The Teaching Company) and we are enjoying it immensely. I do not like to sit unless I am at work, but this course gets me into a chair after work. (We live and thrive on the Teaching Company courses at my cottage, as readers know.)
The Prof says that the wealth of the Middle Ages came from a combination of trade and the renewal of currency in the form of the Italian Florin, the introduction of the heavy plow, the replacement of slavery with serfdom, a doubling of Europe's population - and the Medieval Warm Period which made it possible to grow better crops much further north than in the Dark Ages - and further north than today. Greenland was farmland.
The Warm Period was far warmer than the world today. People benefited. That's why we pray for Global Warming (but also doubt that humankind will be so lucky. With our luck, we'll get the next Ice Age and all be screwed except for Dr. Merc).
Wednesday, May 25. 2011
From Mead on Clausewitz: